October 15, 2022

This week in TV Guide: October 19, 1951

Sometimes the only way to find out whether or not an idea really works is to just jump right in and try it. For instance, I had a couple of TV Guides to choose from today, issues from the mid-50s; I also had one from the '60s that I'd used eight or so years ago, long enough that it would still be new for many people. Those would have been the safe choices, but, I asked myself, why not live dangerously this week and try something different? (Now, it's true that if this is the best I can do when it comes to living dangerously, it's no wonder why I live such a sedate life. And if you asked yourself that, you'd be right. But maybe that's what it takes to break out of a fog.)

And that's how, with the aid of the Internet Archive, we find ourselves looking at the TV Guide of October 19, 1951. This is a year-and-a-half prior to the national rollout, when TV Guide was limited to New York, New England, and the Washington-Baltimore area, so expect an emphasis on local, rather than national, stories. Since most of the familiar features have yet to appear, I have no idea what we're in for, so we'll just take it as it comes and hope for the best!

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Here's a promising start: an ad on the inside cover (labeled page 2) for Jim McKay's 15-minute WCBS variety series, The Real McKay.

You might know that Jim McKay's real name is Jim McManus; in fact, his son Sean, who is chairman of CBS Sports, uses the family name. And it might have been ABC's Wide World of Sports with Jim McManus, had it not been for this show.* The title is, of course, a pun on "The Real McCoy," and it was to be young McKay's first break in big-time television. He wasn't thrilled to find out that his name would now be McKay; "I liked my own name just as it was," he wrote in his autobiography The Real McKay. "The thought of James K. McManus disappearing into thin air didn't please me at all, and I knew would be even less pleasing to my parents, and to [wife] Margaret, who had easily taken to the liquid sound of my real surname." He quickly realized, however, that there was no sense in jeopardizing his chances, and so, though he wondered "why they didn't just call me Jim McCoy," Jim McKay it was, and would remain, for one of the legendary careers in television.

*Roone Arledge, who produced Wide World, would always refer to McKay as "McManus" over the headset. 

The format of The Real McKay, which McKay helped develop with WCBS's program director, is that of a standard interview/variety program, taking place on a faux living room set designed by McKay's wife, Margaret. For the first program, the producer lined up a couple of singers from the Catskills, one male and one female; McKay would interview them, they would each sing, and then a few months later they'd be brought back to the show to see how their careers were progressing. The female singer was Barbara Cook, who a few years later would co-star on Broadway with Robert Preston in The Music Man, playing Marian the Librarian (the role played by Shirley Jones in the movie version). And the male singer: the man who would go on to marry said Shirley Jones, Jack Cassidy—TV and Broadway star in his own right, and father of Sean and David. And the program director of WCBS, who helped create The Real McKay and get it on the air? His name is Dick Doan—Richard K. Doan, who will later produce "The Doan Report" for TV Guide. Where he doubtless will carry a report on his old colleague, Jim McKay.

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Well, that went pretty well, so let's go to page 3, "a terse weekly report" called "Inside TV," which serves as a prototype for the future TV Teletype that we know and love sio well. And among other facts (did you know, for instance, that actress Adelaide Hawley actually played Betty Crocker in a Saturday noon weekly show called Betty Crocker Star Time? And here, you thought she was only a picture on a box.), we learn, in a section called "Program Possibilities," that "Dave Garroway may be emcee of an NBC-TV 7 to 9 a.m.—and we mean a.m.—program to be called The Rise and Shine Revue." That, of course, is The Today Show, which will premiere on the network the following January, and which Garroway will host until 1961.

Joining Garroway on that first Today and remaining on the program until 1967 as co-host, announcer, and occasional foil is Jack Lescoulie. (Garroway was known as "The Master Communicator"; he dubbed Lescoulie "The Saver" for his ability to liven up dull segments.) Lescoulie had previously worked as a game show host, announcer, and producer for WCBS. Among the shows he produced: The Real McKayhe was the producer who chose Barbara Cook and Jack Cassidy as guests for that first program. I tell you, you can't make this stuff up.
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Let's turn now to the man on the cover, actor Lloyd Nolan. Over a long and successful career, Nolan made a lot of movies and appeared on a lot of TV shows; you might well recognize him most from a series of movies he made featuring private detective Michael Shayne, or from his role as Dr. Chegley in Julia. Shayne is in the past, however, and Julia is in the future; we're concerned with the present, where Nolan is the new star of Martin Kane, Private Eye (he's one of four actors to play the part over the show's five seasons on radio and television).

Among the things we learn about Nolan in this brief profile: he once worked as a stagehand in a theater where one of the ushers was a young woman named Bette Davis; he and his wife introduced square dancing to Hollywood and had a group called the Beverly Hillbillies (what a pity he never did a guest stint on the sitcom); and that his real name, in fact.is Lloyd Nolan. (I know, it would have been great if his real name had been McCoy or something like that, but you can't have everything.) One of his most acclaimed roles is still ahead of him; his stage and television portrayal of Captain Queeg in The Caine Mutiny Court-Martial, which Herman Wouk adapted from his own novel, and for which Nolan wins an Emmy in 1955.

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The listings in this issue are very short on details; no Close-Ups, and while there are ads for movies (mostly The Late Show on WCBS, Channel 2), there are also ads for movies in the theater, for horse racing, for restaurants (prime Angus steak dinner for $1.95!), and for companies that sponsor various shows (though not for the shows themselves).

But as different as things may look, there are still programs you're going to recognize. either from having watched them or seen them in pages of future TV Guides:
  • Your Show of Shows (Saturday, 9:00 p.m., NBC)
  • Meet the Press (Sunday, 4:00 p.m., NBC)
  • Toast of the Town, aka The Ed Sullivan Show (Sunday, 8:00 p.m., CBS)
  • Colgate Comedy Hour (Sunday, 8:00 p.m., NBC)
  • Red Skelton (Sunday, 10:00 p.m., NBC)
  • What's My Line? (Sunday, 10:30 p.m., CBS)
  • The Voice of Firestone (Monday, 8:30 p.m., NBC)
  • I Love Lucy (Monday, 9:00 p.m., CBS)
  • Studio One (Monday, 10:00 p.m., CBS)
  • Texaco Star Theater with Milton Berle (Tuesday, 8:00 p.m., NBC)
  • Arthur Godfrey and His Friends (Wednesday, 8:00 p.m., CBS)
  • Suspense (Wednesday, 9:30 p.m., NBC)
  • The Lone Ranger (Thursday, 7:30 p.m., ABC)
  • Burns and Allen (Thursday, 8:00 p.m., CBS)
  • You Bet Your Life (Thursday, 8:00 p.m., NBC)
  • Amos 'n' Andy (Thursday, 8:30 p.m., CBS)
I didn't include a number of less well-known shows that are still among the era's best (Armstrong Circle Theater or Robert Montgomery Presents, for instance), nor did I go into the daytime (Love of Life, Search for Tomorrow) or the pre-primetime (Kukla, Fran and Ollie, The Perry Como Show) schedules. I also left out boxing, which will be a staple on all networks throughout the 1950s. Still, that's pretty good.

Then there are the shows that aren't starting up until later in the season. That movie on Channel 2, for instance, isn't for the Dragnet that we know and love. (Besides, Henry Wilcoxon is no Jack Webb.) But the famed cop series is on the way; Dragnet, with Joe Friday and Frank Smith* patrolling the streets of Los Angeles, makes its television debut on December 16, 1951, alternating every other week with Gangbusters

*Barton Yarborough, who had played Friday's partner Ben Romero on the radio version of Dragnet since 1949, died after two episodes of the television series had been filmed. After a short time working with several other partners, Smith (Ben Alexander) became Friday's partner for the remainder of the series.

By the way, although Jack Webb enjoyed playing the character of Joe Friday on the radio, he was not at all sure that he was the right actor to play him on TV. He was, however, much too closely identified with the role, and the network insisted that he continue. The actor who was Webb's choice to play Friday: Lloyd Nolan, of course.

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One more story I wanted to get to, and that's the show advertised on the back cover: New York Close-Up, Monday through Friday at 6:30 p.m. "The program that tells the story of the people who have a story to tell"—don't you appreciate the urgency that conveys? The show is hosted by the inimitable married couple of Tex McCrary and Jinx Falkenburg, and in the day they were a media sensation. "Mr. and Mrs. New York," indeed. They were pioneers in the talk show format, just as Dave Garroway was with Today, and like Garroway they are mostly forgotten today.

Tex McCrary had not only been a correspondent during World War II, he was also a colonel in the Army Air Corps who led the first journalists into Hiroshima after the bomb. Jinx Falkenburg was considered one of the most beautiful women of her time: cover girl, athlete, USO entertainer. That nightgown that Rita Hayworth wore in her famous pinup? That was loaned to her by her friend, Jinx. I imagine it looked just as good on her.

Tex taught Jinx the basics of how to conduct an interview (other protégés of his included Gabe Pressman, Ted Yates, Barbara Walters, and Barry Farber), and she wound up being one of the best in the business. They began a breakfast radio show in 1946, then made the transition to television (while doing two radio shows and a newspaper column). In 1952, they staged a rally in Madison Square Garden that helped convince Dwight Eisenhower to run for president. Tex would move into public relations, where he would work behind the scenes with William Levitt and Thurgood Marshall to make sure Levittown was integrated. Jinx, meanwhile, traveled to the Soviet Union in 1959 to open a model house belonging to one of Tex's clients at a U.S. exhibition—in the kitchen of the model, Nixon and Khrushchev would engage in their "kitchen debate." Accompanying Jinx on that tour was a young researcher who became a well-known columnist and political speechwriter: William Safire. In other words, just ordinary people like you and me. 

It's true that only a handful of people in this world live lives like this—we all know that. And yet, reading through these issues, you're overwhelmed by the extraordinary lives of extraordinary people. It shouldn't make us feel inadequate, because if everyone lived like this, no lives would be extraordinary; they'd all be average. So if you're inclined to feel kind of down after reading this, just remember that you're doing your part to help create extraordinary people.

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So that's a look around a 1951 TV Guide. Only 32 pages, including the front and back covers. There are no reviews of programs or movies, no crossword puzzles, and the Letters to the Editor are rather mundane. Yet it's been a fascinating experiment, don't you think? Maybe I'll do it again sometime.

And by the way, this week's MST3K alert: I Accuse My Parents (Sunday, 1:00 p.m., WPIX). Some things never change. TV  

1 comment:

  1. It's too bad that Jinx Falkenburg is largely forgotten today. Very charismatic in her acting appearances too. Tex and Jinx ended up passing away within 4 weeks of each other in 2003 (though they had been separated for some 20 years, they never divorced).


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